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Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

Indian Horse (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Richard Wagamese

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1752067,867 (4.26)36
Title:Indian Horse
Authors:Richard Wagamese
Info:Douglas & Mcintyre (2012), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Canadian, Read but unowned
Tags:Ontario, residential schools, hockey, Ojibway, racism, Canada Reads 2013

Work details

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese (2012)

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    The Round House by Louise Erdrich (Iudita)
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    Motorcycles & Sweetgrass by Drew Hayden Taylor (unaluna)
    unaluna: If you liked Indian Horse, I think you'd like this one as well. It's insightful, sensitive and very witty.

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“One day the clouds hung low and light rain freckled the slate-grey water that peeled across our bow. The pellets of rain were warm and Benjamin and I caught them on our tongues as our grandmother laughed behind us. Our canoes skimmed along and as I watched the shoreline it seemed the land itself was in motion. The rocks lay lodged like hymns in the breast of it, and the trees bent upward in praise like crooked fingers. It was glorious. Ben felt it too. He looked at me with tears in his eyes, and I held his look a long time, drinking in the face of my brother.” (18)

Book Description: from front cover
Saul Indian Horse has hit bottom. His last binge almost killed him, and now he’s a reluctant resident in a treatment centre, surrounded by people he’s sure will never understand him. But Saul wants peace, and he grudgingly comes to see that he’ll find it only through telling his story. Beginning with his childhood on the land, he embarks on a journey back through his life as a northern Ojibway, with all its joys and sorrows.

Author Richard Wagamese traces the decline of a culture and a cultural way with compassion and insight. For Saul, taken forcibly from his family when he’s sent to residential school, salvation comes for a while through his incredible gifts as a hockey player. But in the harsh realities of 1960s Canada, he battles obdurate racism and the spirit-destroying effects of cultural alienation and displacement.

My Review:
Wagamese’s Indian Horse was a gift from the Aboriginal Education Department of my local School District. And what a gift! The novel is one I didn’t want to put down, and, but for starting it late one evening, would have read in a single sitting. The story of Saul Indian Horse, and of the fate of his family, is at once tragic, heartbreaking, courageous, and victorious. Saul, having been taken into residential school at eight years old, manages well into his adulthood to see his way through the other side of his abusive experience, and to at last know peace. But the road to salvation was not a straight one or an easy one, plagued as it was by rage, isolation, desolation, and alcoholism.

“They took me to St. Jerome’s Indian Residential School. I read once that there are holes in the universe that swallow all light, all bodies. St. Jerome’s took all the light from my world. Everything I knew vanished behind me with an audible swish, like the sound a moose makes disappearing into spruce.” (43)

Wagamese writes with a powerful, raw honesty, not shying away from the realities of rape, starvation, beatings, and humiliation that plagued the school’s children; but neither using such details to garner effect. On a personal note, I believe the residential schools to be Canada’s greatest shame. Highly recommended. ( )
2 vote lit_chick | Aug 29, 2015 |
Sad story about a boy that attended a residential school in the Canadian North. What kept him alive was the game of hockey. He does come to terms about the abuse he suffered at the school but it was difficult to say the least. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what these pour children endured at these schools in the 50's and 60's. ( )
  janismack | Aug 21, 2015 |
Definitely a book directed at Canadians.

I knew that children were sent to Australia from British orphanages, I knew that Aboriginal children were separated from their families 'for their own good'. I knew that children of Irish mothers were 'rehomed' without trace. Now I discover that Canadian Indian children were also wrenched from their families and forced to live in barbaric schools. Here they learnt very little and were savagely beaten for minor infringements of the totally unrealistic rules. Their native language was banned and most of their days were spent in cleaning, farming or cooking, serving men and women who should never have been nuns or monks in the first place. Why is this becoming such a familiar scenario? Why are there so many evil people masquerading as Christians?

Saul Indian Horse comes from a loving Ojibway family. His grandparents are from the 'old way' but his parents' generation are Christian, living as their ancestors had, but confused about what they believe. They are, however, determined that Saul and his brother Benjamin will not be stolen away like their elder sister, never to be seen again.

Unfortunately, in spite of their best efforts, Saul finds himself at St Jerome's. Here he survives the loneliness and fear by totally engrossing himself in the game of ice hockey.

This is where the Canadian readers in our book group continued to be engrossed, while the non-Canadians got lost in a continuous description of hockey jargon. I found myself skipping large chunks of detailed descriptions of hockey games, exciting twirls on the back of the blade and bouncing off backboards. It sounds like an horrifically violent sport, but I was totally out of my depth in these passages, which formed a large proportion of the book.

This book had a strong message about survival and endurance and what it takes to overcome a traumatic childhood, and I would surely have been giving it 4 stars if it hadn't been so strongly biased towards ice hockey.
Recommended reading for Canadians. ( )
  DubaiReader | Jun 24, 2015 |
May be spoilers. Mostly I liked this book. He is a good writer. He paints a clear & strong picture of the destruction that the government of Canada rained on the native people. The hockey part is fun but a little metaphysical for me. Well, I guess the whole book is, but it seemed more intrusive in the hockey part.
  franoscar | Jan 5, 2015 |
Richard Wagamese's novel, INDIAN HORSE, is an eye-opener, and one hell of a good story. Narrator Saul Indian Horse, a thirty-three year-old Canadian Native American (First Nation), is writing down his story as therapy, trying to come back from years of alcohol abuse. His life has been a mixture of the grim and glorious. The grimness stems from his being orphaned and abandoned as a child, followed by years of abuse as a resident of a Northern Ontario Indian School run by priests and nuns. The glory comes with his prowess and natural ability as a hockey player, which takes him from the rag-tag school team, through the Reserve and mill town bush leagues all the way up to a farm team for the Maple Leafs, where it all falls apart when Saul finds himself the target of hatred and racism. Quitting all of it he roams rootlessly for years, drowning it all in alcohol.

Wagamese blends native culture and rituals with the influences of white civilization - mostly bad - and the hockey madness that Canada is famous for and creates a story that will grab you and keep you reading deep into the night.

I had wanted to read this book ever since reading another book about hockey, also by a Canadian, Brian Fawcett's excellent THE LAST OF THE LUMBERMEN. I'm glad I finally did. The truth is I don't play hockey or even watch it, but both authors are good enough that I was mesmerized, and yes, a lot of both books are all about HOCKEY! INDIAN HORSE is a moving, eloquent and disturbing look at life in Canada's First Nation back in the 60s and 70s, and Saul Indian Horse is a character you will remember. Highly recommended. ( )
  TimBazzett | Oct 13, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
Saul is portrayed clearly enough to function as a believable, engaging narrator, but he also operates as a kind of allegorical figure in a larger, spiritual drama of personal and communal trauma, endurance, and recovery.

Wagamese pulls off a fine balancing act: exposing the horrors of the country’s residential schools while also celebrating Canada’s national game.
Wagemese’s writing qualifies as an act of courage, for we are in the midst of one of the most effective silencing campaigns in generations: People who dare to address historical wrongs are regularly accused of whining; unbelievably, the word “victim” has become a derogatory term. Yet, Wagamese writes without apology; and with such specificity and emotional restraint the reader sometimes forgets to breathe....In addition to individual words and phrases, he weaves in Ojibway legends. In this way Wagamese crafts an unforgettable work of art.
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I come in to the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things
For my wife, Debra Powell, for allowing me to bask in her light and become more.
First words
My name is Saul Indian Horse.
When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness. That's what they inflicted on us.
Our legends tell of how we emerged from the womb of out Mother Earth; Aki is the name we have for her. We sprang forth intact, with Aki's heartbeat thrumming in our ears, prepared to become her stewards and protectors. When I was born our people still talked this way. We had not yet stepped beyond the influence of our legends. That was a border my generation crossed, and we pine for a return that has never come to be.
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Book description
Saul Indian Horse is dying. Tucked away in a hospice high above the clash and clang of a big city, he embarks on a marvellous journey of imagination back through the life he led as a northern Ojibway, with all its sorrows and joys.

With compassion and insight, author Richard Wagamese traces through his fictional characters the decline of a culture and a cultural way. For Saul, taken forcibly from the land and his family when he's sent to residential school, salvation comes for a while through his incredible gifts as a hockey player. But in the harsh realities of 1960s Canada, he battles obdurate racism and the spirit-destroying effects of cultural alienation and displacement.

Indian Horse unfolds against the bleak loveliness of northern Ontario, all rock, marsh, bog and cedar. Wagamese writes with a spare beauty, penetrating the heart of a remarkable Ojibway man. Evaluated and Approved by ERAC
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